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Front Porch: Have we hung up on manners?

Thu., Oct. 27, 2011

Where did telephone manners go?

Silly question, as I know the answer. They went to that place where good manners, civility and general courtesy have gone – out the window for the long fall and inevitable splat on the sidewalk. But allow me to rant a bit just the same.

The phone rings. I answer it. “Is Bob there?” No greeting, just the question. Here’s the problem – while my husband’s first name is Robert, he never uses it, except on forms and legal documents, and everyone who knows him calls him by his middle name. And if some legal type person were to call him, what they’d see on the document they’re calling about would be the name Robert. Never Bob.

I’m inclined to say “no Bob here,” and have done so a time or two. That’s caused a few problems, so I now answer with a barrage of questions of my own to weed out the telephone solicitors from those doing legitimate business. I rather resent having to do that.

The phone rings. It’s dinnertime. I answer it and ask if I might call back in a few minutes as my mouth is filled with linguini. The caller assures me it will only take a moment and continues his or her conversation. I hang up mid-sentence.

The phone rings. I answer it. “May I speak to (select one) Mrs. Pettittee, Mrs. Petty, Mrs. Poteet?” Clearly, the call is not from a close friend. “May I ask who’s calling?” I inquire. “Are you the lady of the house?” comes the answer. Don’t try to get slippery on me – this is my phone and my house and I’ll not be danced around. I hang up.

The phone rings. I answer it. It’s from my alma mater or a charity I contribute to or some other organization. The perky, sincere caller assures me he/she is not selling anything. Uh huh. The call is just to update my information and tell me the latest news from Gainesville, Fla., or about the good work the organization is doing. I understand that times are tough so I’ll often listen; sometimes I just ask them to fast forward to the end, which inevitably has some sort of ask in it. Please, just tell me up front and save us both time before launching into the narrative. That’s a lot more honest. If I want to contribute, I will. You’re not going to arm-twist or guilt me into it with lots of blather.

When I make a call to anyone other than a friend, I try to begin by providing my name and reason for my call. But often, I run into the corporate version of bad phone manners in the form of certain automated answering systems, which begin by earnestly assuring me my phone call is important to them. I hold, then get to the next limb of the automated response tree, where I get the third degree. What is my name (again)? My mailing address? My phone number? My ID or contract number? All of this and more is asked of me to expedite my call.

I provide the information, am put on hold for the next customer service representative. Many moons later, a live person comes on the line and asks again for my particulars. “I just gave you all that,” I say. Besides, I’ve now put away my wallet that contains the card with my contract number on it and I’m not disposed to fish it out again. Sometimes they look me up by my phone number, but other times I need to go fishing. When it’s all over, they’ve either helped me or not, but I am annoyed, especially when the kicker is that they want me to participate in a customer service survey. Really not a good idea, considering my mood.

But back to incoming calls. The phone rings. I answer it, and it’s clearly a wrong number. “Are you sure Justin isn’t there?” Well, I’m pretty sure I’d have noticed a stranger in my house. “Yes,” I say sweetly, “there’s no one here by that name.” “But he gave me this phone number,” comes the reply. Going above and beyond, I try to convince the caller that this is indeed not Justin’s place of residence. “Well, what’s your number?” the person asks. “What number did you call?” I reply, my dulcet tones beginning to stiffen a bit. “I can’t read the number so good on the paper.” Therein lies the problem, I inform the hapless caller. “Huh?” comes the reply. I hang up.

The phone rings. I answer it. “Did you call me?” Again no greeting, just the question. Here’s the problem – more than one person uses the land line in my house and just because you have caller ID on your phone (I don’t) and can make an instantaneous return call without bothering to check your messages, that doesn’t mean I know who you are. I have on occasion said “who the hell are you?” but since my husband often makes business calls from our home phone, my response has from time to time put a chill on customer relations. I’m trying to be better about that.

Perhaps my own phone manners could use a bit of polishing as well.

Voices Stefanie Pettit can be reached by email at upwindsailor@comcast. net. Previous columns are available at spokesman. com/columnists.

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